Zurik: Worker at Hard Rock Hotel site describes warning signs ahead of collapse, calls job ‘rushed’

Worker said job was rushed to get hotel open in time for Mardi Gras 2020

Zurik: Hard Rock Collapse Worker

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A person who worked on the Hard Rock Hotel construction site in New Orleans, said the job was ‘rushed’ and there were warning signs ahead of the collapse on October 12 that killed three men and injured several more people.

The worker did not want to be identified since he is now looking for employment since the collapse and fears showing his face will prevent him from finding work. He described the morning of the collapse to FOX 8 News and how he was just minutes away from being in the collapse zone.

DAY OF THE COLLAPSE

“I was on the 18th Floor and came down for 9:00 break and I left. I wasn’t feeling good."

The construction worker had been working for hours on that Saturday and decided to go across the street to get some food. Little did he know that would be a decision that could have changed his life forever.

Just twelve minutes later, the building he and dozens of others were working on would partially collapse, killing three of his coworkers.

“It could have been me,” he said. “I ran out there and there wasn’t nothing I could --- I just broke down crying because all the people I worked with was dead in that building.”

Jose Ponce Arreola, 63, Anthony Magrette, 49, and Quinnyon Wimberly, 36, all died in the collapse. Magrette’s body was able to be recovered from the site. The bodies of Ponce Arreola and Wimberly remain in the rubble, unable to be recovered.

In video captured by Michael Dalle-Molle, a section of the Hard Rock Hotel site under construction collapses onto Rampart Street in New Orleans on October 12, 2019.
In video captured by Michael Dalle-Molle, a section of the Hard Rock Hotel site under construction collapses onto Rampart Street in New Orleans on October 12, 2019. (Source: Michael Dalle-Molle)

“I knew all three of them,” the worker told FOX 8′s Lee Zurik. “I got on the buck hoist (elevator) with all three of them that morning -- not knowing I was going to be here today and they [were] going to be gone.

“[They were] hard workers, good people,” the worker said. “The guy 'Q' [Quinnyon], if he could help you, he’d help you. [He] didn’t deserve to die.”

‘THEY RUSHED IT’

Two days before the collapse, FOX 8 was on Canal Street as workers were preparing a rooftop pool to be installed at the site. At the time, we were told the hotel was set to open in May 2020. But since the collapse, the worker who chose to talk to FOX 8 said the goal was to be ready for an earlier event -- Mardi Gras 2020.

“It was after they had a meeting in the office and they said they wanted to have floors open for Mardi Gras,” he said. “[They] wanted part of the hotel open for Mardi Gras, so it was like a rush thing then.”

“Yeah, they were rushing. I started taking days off because I felt it was unsafe," the worker said.

SAFETY CONCERNS BEFORE THE COLLAPSE

Since the collapse, a video has circulated across social media from a worker showing inside the Hard Rock Hotel site before the deadly collapse. The worker is speaking in Spanish and describing the poor conditions of what are known as pole shores, meant to temporarily support drying concrete.

The worker who spoke to FOX 8 is not the person who recorded the video and described how the process works with the pole shores.

“Before they do a concrete pour, we’d have to shore up the floor first, so we’d put the pole shores to counter the weight,” the worker said.

He had seen the video that has circulated online and said he saw bent poles one month before the collapse.

“It started on eight. That’s the first time I saw the bent pole shores,” he said. “It was a bunch of 'em. It was about thirty pole shores that were bent.”

The worker said there were also sounds that caused concern at times during work on the site.

“I remember one weekend we went up in there and we’re working and we’re knocking the pole shores down and we could tell something was wrong," he said. "Everytime we would knock one down you’d hear another one go -- Boom! Boom! -- And so we stopped and we got a supervisor to go up there. The supervisor came up and when he came up he told us it was a – he told us to stop.

"He told us to stop because the floor had dropped like a half an inch or so.”

“When you’re beating on the pole shores you can hear – I don’t know how to explain it – like a Boom! Boom! Like as you’re hitting the pole shore with the hammer, it’s twisting and you can hear like ‘Boom!’ ‘Boom!’ --- that’s why we stopped because that was a funny noise, we hadn’t heard that noise.”

He said the supervisor told them to stop work because of the noises they had heard.

“He told us to leave it the f*** alone because the s*** is dangerous... something is wrong. That’s what he told us.”

The worker said they waited a few days and started removing the poles again.

FLOOR-BY-FLOOR TIMELINE

Through a public records request, FOX 8 obtained concrete testing documents from the property’s owner. They show the date each floor’s concrete was poured giving us a better look at the timeline of the project.

An analysis of the dates on the documents showed the hotel’s first eight floors on average with about 35 days between each floor being poured.

The documents appeared to show a faster pace with the project’s top eight floors with an average of 21 days between each floor being poured. Two floors were done less than twenty days between one another.

Since the collapse, the worker who spoke to FOX 8 said he received a letter from the contractor -- Citadel Builders -- ending the employment of the workers on the project.

“It’s just hard because I have a family. Right now I’m struggling to feed my family and it’s like Citadel didn’t care. They just sent you a letter and told you bye," he said. “I don’t really want to work on no more high-rise buildings.”

The developer, 1031 Canal Group released the following statement:

1031 Canal Development LLC refers commentary on those matters to parties that were contractors and thus hired to oversee the execution of the construction work, as well as those entities that had regulatory positions in the process. 1031 Canal Development LLC is the developer of the project and does not have comment on situations that do not involve it.

Copyright 2019 WVUE. All rights reserved.